We’ve been long-time admirers of the Nimbl Evolution. Steve Kozloff’s telescoping clamshell design was unique when it was first introduced in 2007 and remains so to this day. Of course, it originally was sold under the XPCamper name until 2020, when the camper was relaunched under the Nimbl Vehicles brand and new ownership. Since then, numerous improvements and upgrades have been made to the original Kozloff design. These enhancements include a stronger carbon fiber structure, lithium power, improved lighting and windows, all electric cooking, and a DC air conditioner.
“The Evolution is a great camper,” Jon Turner, Nimbl Vehicles founder and chief engineer, told us during the 2020 relaunch. “If you look around, there’s nothing that really competes with it in terms of the price, the performance, the ability to do so much on a small platform. It’s such an agile, “nimble” camper that you can do a lot of things with it, especially when you compare it to an EarthRoamer or a Global Expedition Vehicle which are glorious vehicles but are too large.”
Turner is right, of course. There’s nothing like the Nimbl Evolution. The 2,500-pound camper was so ground-breaking when it was released in 2007 that many have tried copying it. As a matter of fact, Kozloff’s floor plan has been copied by practically every flatbed truck camper builder today. The layout features a kitchen on the driver side, a wet-bath on the passenger side, a face-to-face dinette in the rear, and a spacious east-west queen-size bed with under-bed storage.
One element that has been difficult to copy, however, is Nimbl’s distinctive clamshell design. With its carbon fiber reinforced monocoque structure and hydraulic roof lift, the Evolution isn’t your typical flatbed pop-up. A good 90 percent of the telescoping camper is hard-sided with only the front and sides of the cabover canvas. Couple Nimbl’s ground-breaking monocoque design with a massive 80-gallon fresh water holding tank, a heated 24-gallon grey water holding tank, and a massive battery bay, and you have a true four-season camper that’s difficult to imitate. As one Overland Expo West attendee told us, “the camper has style. There’s really nothing like it.”
Expedition Portal and Overland Journal Senior Editor, Graeme Bell, and his wife, Luisa, were fortunate enough to travel in and evaluate what Nimbl’s calls its prototype camper or “Proto” for short. Owned by Nimbl founder, Jon Turner, Proto is an original XPCamper mounted on a 2006 Dodge Ram 2500 with the legendary Cummins 5.9L turbo diesel. In December 2021, the couple left on what would eventually become an epic, 35,000-mile trip across four countries. To learn more about this epic journey, Graeme was kind enough to answer several questions.
Thanks, Graeme, for talking with us. First can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Graeme Bell: I am Graeme, my long-suffering wife is Luisa, and we have been on the road full time since 2011. Up until late last year our kids traveled with us but they are now adults and live in Oaxaca, Mexico. Together, as a family, we have traveled in West, East and in Southern Africa—we are South African—circumnavigated South America, drove from Argentina to Alaska, and converted our Land Rover Defender into a hard side camper before touring Europe to Turkey. In 2021 we left the Landy in South Africa and flew to the US to cross the country south to north and east to west in a Range Rover Classic. After repairing the “Rangy” daily, we handed her back to her rightful owner and found ourselves driving Proto, one of the original XPCampers. We also travel with a scruffy little dog called Chewy the Killer who we adopted as a rescue in South Africa.
What makes the Nimbl Evolution unique?
Graeme Bell: Well, the Nimbl campers are unlike anything else out there. The hydraulic pop-up roof and aero-dynamic shape is quite unlike anything else on the market and allows the vehicle to maintain a slim profile compared to other truck campers. It’s this feature which allows the user to explore where others cannot while retaining all the essential comforts necessary for long-term, long-distance exploration.
What things do you like best about the design of the camper?
Graeme Bell: We love the balance of power, capability, space and comfort. The flatbed on which the camper is mounted offers a massive amount of packing space and all hatches lock with one key. There are also plenty of windows and fans for ventilation and a powerful diesel heater, which kept as warm and alive in the Arctic Circle, in March! I also enjoy the internal packing space, toilet, shower and large, comfortable bed.
Did you need to make any modifications to the Proto for your epic, 18-month-long trip?
Graeme Bell: Yes, in preparation for the journey south to Guatemala we had her equipped with a set of the excellent General Tire X3 mud terrain tires, which served us very well. We also installed an ARB bumper, upgraded the headlights, installed a traction board mount and a bash plate. We then drove the Proto to Tuktoyaktuk in March 2023. We prepared for this final leg by draining and replacing the relevant fluids with winter spec as well as adding a set of KC HiLites lights, a Garmin Tread with Ride Share, and General Tire Arctic LT studded winter tires. When we received the vehicle, it was exceptionally well-built and prepared. There wasn’t much needed to adapt her to our specific needs.
Can you tell us about the Proto’s electrical system?
Graeme Bell: Proto is equipped with four 100 amp hour Battle Born Batteries, a 4,000 watt 24 volt, pure sine Magnum inverter linked to a Zamp PWM solar charger and three 100 watt solar panels. The system is managed via VictronConnect. The vehicle is equipped with a DC refrigerator, an induction cooker, multiple lights, a water pump, a grey water pump, and multiple power points. With the system correctly managed, we did not want for power. We also carry a Wagan Lithium Cube 1200 to run computers, Starlink, and charge devices when we are off-grid for a significant amount of time. The batteries were charged from either the alternator, solar, or via shore power.
How well did the electrical system perform?
Graeme Bell: We have found that we are able to stay off-grid indefinitely if we manage our power well, as we did on a remote beach in Baja, forced to leave only by the lack of fresh water, which says a lot because there’s a 75 gallon fresh water tank on board. The induction cooker uses a lot of power, so we made camp fires often (any excuse will do) and used a secondary gas cooker for long cook meals.
Did you need to make any modifications to the Proto’s suspension system for your trip?
Graeme Bell: No. The Proto was already equipped with Icon suspension components, ARB air bags, and an up-rated rear leaf spring pack from Sacramento Springs, in Northern California. The suspension worked very well and has proven to be rock solid despite the many thousands of hard miles we subjected the vehicle to.
What kind of mileage did you get?
Graeme Bell: Generally, we achieve 14 to 15 mpg depending on the quality of fuel available and the direction of the wind as we drive. The large 35-gallon fuel tank ensures that an excellent range between fills.
What tires did you use and what inflation values did you typically run?
Graeme Bell: For Central America, we chose the General Grabber X3, which we use to cross West Africa and Southern Africa with our Defender. This tire has never let us down, not even once, and we recommend it very highly. Equally impressive is the General Tire Arctic LT (stud-able) winter tire which we chose for the journey from the USA to the Arctic Ocean in winter. The Arctic LT offers excellent wear and grip and kept us safe even on the iciest roads! We generally run the tires hard, 70 psi at the rear and 60 psi up front for paved roads and then deflate them by ear for rough and corrugated roads. For deep sand, we deflate the tires until they lose enthusiasm and gain maximum grip. The Nimbl’s built-in air compressor was essential in the beaches and jungles.
Can you tell us about your epic, 35,000-mile trip? Where exactly did you go?
Graeme Bell: We collected Proto in December 2021 and then headed down to Baja. From there we made our way very, very slowly to mainland Mexico before crossing over to Guatemala. From Guatemala we traveled to Belize and then headed back up through the Yucatan Peninsula before dropping the kids off in Oaxaca and taking the ferry back to Baja. From Baja we drove to Reno, (where our friend Jon, the owner of Proto and Nimbl partner is based) before driving in convoy to the Arctic.
Did you have any reservations taking the Nimbl Prototype to the Arctic?
Graeme Bell: No, not at all. We chose to go to the Arctic in winter with this vehicle because it is incredibly reliable and very well suited for cold weather travel. It’s the vehicle we needed to step far out of our comfort zone and bring us safely back again. Enroute to the Arctic, Jon had an accident and flipped his vehicle into a snow bank. Once he was dusted off, we loaded his gear into Proto, had his truck recovered, and continued with our journey with all of us in the Nimbl. After reaching the Arctic Ocean, we delivered Jon, and another companion, Canadian explorer and author, James Raffan, to Whitehorse to fly home. From there, Luisa and I continued south through Canada, Montana, and across to Washington state.
You mentioned Starlink earlier. What are your thoughts on the system?
Graeme Bell: Even though the connection can be significantly inhibited by forested areas, we were thoroughly impressed with it. Not only did Starlink’s speed of the service exceed our expectations, but the hardware also demonstrated remarkable durability, operating in rugged terrain and in extreme temperatures as low as -45F. The ruggedness of the higher priced “flat” unit, in particular, was evident when we encountered a rollover situation in a snow-blown yard, where our friend’s van was being towed. Surprisingly, the roof-mounted unit emerged unscathed from the accident without a single scratch. Only time will tell if it will continue to function as effectively as it did prior to the rollover, but our expectations remain high.
What are your plans for the future?
Graeme Bell: Our Defender will now be joining us in North America and so it is with a heavy but grateful heart, that we hand the keys back to Jon for Proto to continue a life of adventure with Jon and his wife Emily.
Do you have any closing thoughts on the Nimbl Evolution?
Graeme Bell: The Nimbl Evolution is unique and faultlessly capable and reliable. We encourage anyone looking for a truly incredible, global overland vehicle to consider the Nimbl. We would drive this vehicle around the world, without hesitation. From the extreme heat and humidity of Central America to the extreme cold of the winter Arctic we were always comfortable and safe. The Nimbl never let us down and exceeded our expectations. Bear in mind that this was a prototype vehicle, more than a decade old, the newer Nimbl vehicles, which we have used, have been superior, which is no mean feat.
Do you have any social media channels where our readers can follow you?
This has been great talking to you. Thanks again for taking the time to talk with us. Do you have any final advice for our readers?
Graeme Bell: As a professional overland traveler, I always advise people to first establish a style of travel before investing heavily in a vehicle. What is good for others may not be suitable for you. It is also preferable to seek the inspiration and advice of overland veterans, people who have traveled far and wide over decades. Lastly, less really is more.